Trump Suspends Work Visas – and Silicon Valley Isn't Happy

Silicon Valley is publicly criticizing President Donald Trump's latest attack on visa programs that tech companies use to bring in thousands of skilled foreign workers. (Evan Vucci/AP)

President Trump’s executive order to suspend new H-1B, L-1 and other temporary work visas for skilled workers and managers through the end of the year has met with broad criticism in Silicon Valley.

The L-1 visa that allows companies to transfer employees from overseas offices and the H-1B program for workers in specialty occupations are both popular with tech companies. Several tech executives were quick to condemn the executive order on Twitter, including Tim Cook, CEO of Apple.

Facebook spokesman Andy Stone wrote KQED, “President Trump’s latest proclamation uses the COVID-19 pandemic as justification for limiting immigration. In reality, the move to keep highly-skilled talent out of the US will make our country’s recovery even more difficult. America is a nation of immigrants and our economy and country benefit when we encourage talented people from around the world to live, work, and contribute here. That’s more true now than ever."

Google spokesman Jose Castaneda wrote KQED, "Immigrants have not only fueled technological breakthroughs and created new businesses and jobs but have also enriched American life. America’s continued success depends on companies having access to the best talent from around the world. Particularly now, we need that talent to help contribute to America’s economic recovery."

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The Trump administration's professed goal of providing new jobs to those who lost work because of the coronavirus pandemic has also met with widespread ridicule, even from those critical of Silicon Valley and the documented abuses of the H-1B visa to employ more compliant highly skilled labor at cheaper prices.

UC Hastings law professor Veena Dubal wrote KQED, "Many of these jobs can be done remotely, so I suspect that is how companies will handle the blow to their workforce." She added, that the concept these jobs would be filled by a native U.S. workforce seems disingenuous. "This is a good example of how the racism and xenophobia that appears to guide this administration's approach to immigration extends across the class divide and is (like racism more generally) illogical."

The new restrictions will take effect on June 24. The order is not expected to affect immigrants and visa holders already in the U.S., other than their spouses, who have already been put on notice that the Trump administration does not want them working. Still, the order sends a chilling message to immigrants living in the San Francisco Bay Area on visas, along with their families, wrote one person who asked to remain anonymous for fear of reprisal.

"As I read through the news, I went through the roller coaster of emotions," she wrote KQED. "By only the stroke of luck, we were in the United States while the COVID-19 madness began," she said. Her family had plans to visit India in December 2019, but they postponed this to June 2020 to give the family enough time to get visas stamped from the consulate.

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She explained that if they had made the trip in 2019, and the process of getting the visas stamped had taken longer than expected, they would not have been in the U.S. and may not have been allowed to return. "A simple trip back home would have been the most life-changing event of our life," she said, "our trip to India is now postponed indefinitely."

Like others familiar with immigration law, she suspects H-1B/L-1 visa holders who are currently outside the United States will continue to work for Silicon Valley companies remotely. "In that case, they will not pay taxes in the USA, purchase their groceries here or pay rent here," she said.